In 1634 Urbain Grandier, a handsome and dissolute priest of the parish of Loudun was tried, tortured and burnt at the stake. He had been found guilty of conspiring with the devil to seduce an entire convent of nuns in what was the most sensational case of mass possession and sexual hysteria in history. Grandier maintained his innocence to the end and four years after his death the nuns were still being subjected to exorcisms to free them from their demonic bondage. Huxley's vivid account of this bizarre tale of religious and sexual obsession transforms our understanding of the medieval world.
Aldous Huxley was born on 26th July 1894 near Godalming, Surrey. He began writing poetry and short stories in his early twenties, but it was his first novel, 'Crome Yellow' (1921), which established his literary reputation. This was swiftly followed by 'Antic Hay' (1923), 'Those Barren Leaves' (1925) and 'Point Counter Point' (1928) - bright, brilliant satires in which Huxley wittily but ruthlessly passed judgement on the shortcomings of contemporary society. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy and an account of his experiences there can be found in 'Along The Road' (1925). The great novels of ideas, including his most famous work 'Brave New World' (published in 1932 this warned against the dehumanising aspects of scientific and material 'progress') and the pacifist novel 'Eyeless in Gaza' (1936) were accompanied by a series of wise and brilliant essays, collected in volume form under titles such as 'Music at Night' (1931) and 'Ends and Means' (1937). In 1937, at the height of his fame, Huxley left Europe to live in California, working for a time as a screenwriter in Hollywood. As the West braced itself for war, Huxley came increasingly to believe that the key to solving the world's problems lay in changing the individual through mystical enlightenment. The exploration of the inner life through mysticism and hallucinogenic drugs was to dominate his work for the rest of his life. His beliefs found expression in both fiction ('Time Must Have a Stop', 1944 and 'Island', 1962) and non-fiction ('The Perennial Philosophy', 1945, 'Grey Eminence', 1941 and the famous account of his first mescalin experience, 'The Doors of Perception', 1954. Huxley died in California on 22nd November 1963.